DYI Docks and Piers

This is not a project commonly undertaken by the average do-it-yourselfer.  But then, my wife’s brother isn’t an average guy.

Last year my brother-in-law had this idea to throw a big family reunion from 26-31 December.  For a family activity, we would all build a pier on his property in North Florida.  That’s what we did.  Well, we got a good start on it, anyway.

Ever watch a pile driver set pilings in your local waters?  Pretty interesting process.  They typically have a big barge with a crane and “hammer” that lifts the piles into place, then drops the hammer onto the piling, driving it into the bottom of the bay, river, lake.  How in the world could you do this on your own?

We didn’t have a pile driver, but we did manage to sink 18 pilings into the bay.  We drilled holes in the bay floor with a 14 foot long 3-inch pvc pipe connected to a 3-inch pump.  We stood the pilings up with the assistance of a derrick mounted on the deck of an old 18-foot pontoon boat.

 

How do you get pilings into the water, when they've been delivered to a spot on land?

How do you get pilings into the water, when they’ve been delivered to a spot on land?

Roll them on "rails" up to the seawall, then. . .

Roll them on “rails” up to the seawall, then. . .

... roll them down "ramps" made of 2x6s.

… roll them down “ramps” made of 2x6s.  Large-width straps were used on either side of the pilings to roll them. One of the straps is in the lower right foreground.

Pilings are waded out to the barge and strapped up for lifting with the derrick.

Pilings are waded out to the barge and strapped up for lifting with the derrick.

Lifting one end of the piling, tilting it towards the hole that was drilled with pressurized water.

Lifting one end of the piling, tilting it towards the hole (to the right) that was drilled with pressurized water.

Here's the pvc pipe with blue water hose attached.  Nozzle down, pushing sand out of the way while making a hole 14 feet deep.

Here’s the pvc pipe with blue water hose attached. Nozzle down, pushing sand out of the way while making a hole 14 feet deep.

Our 3-inch pump.

Our 3-inch pump.

Standing the piling on end, it drops down into the hole, then has to be pushed the rest of the way down, against its buoyancy.

Standing the piling on end, it drops down into the hole, then has to be pushed the rest of the way down, against its buoyancy.

The real challenge is getting the pole in the right place.  It easily drifts off its 8-foot centers and has to be constantly measured and checked.  And yet, he is pulling the guideline out of parallel - we had to keep watching for that as well.

The real challenge is getting the pole in the right place. It easily drifts off its 8-foot centers and has to be constantly measured and checked. As you can see, he is inadvertently pulling the guideline out of parallel – we had to keep watching for that as well.

It was wet, cold work in December.

It was wet, cold work in December.

 

Granted, the stringers and decking aren’t installed yet (there are still 5 more pairs of pilings to install), but we’ve made a good start, and will continue working as time allows throughout the year.

Major kudos to my brother-in-law John for figuring all this out and saving tens of thousands of dollars by doing it himself, with a little help from family.

Oh yeah – we had a great reunion too!

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8 comments
  1. Very, very interesting, Rick. But then I have a couple of questions…

    o I understand how the pump can excavate a hole, but I wonder what keeps the sand from just sluffing back in… Is there enough mud in with the sand so that you end up with a tubular hole instead of a conical pit?

    o Presuming that you have a 14 foot deep hole and you manage to get the piling down to the bottom of it against its buoyancy, what keeps it there? I assume that you backfill… some how.

    bob

    • Bob, the nozzle creates a tube (or column) of sand-water, then starts to fill in immediately. The pile is poised ready to drop within a minute or so of completing the hole. It often doesn’t drop all the way to the bottom, and can require more work with the nozzle for that. The nozzle tube easily slides down along the pole as it washes sand away to excavate for more depth. The top of the hole is conical for maybe 3 feet, then is tubular to the bottom. John also learned to wash a bowl-shaped reservoir at the bottom in case the butt of the pile needed to he shifted.

      Bouyancy of the pole was overcome by men pulling down on straps cinched to the upper parts of the pole, then held in place the same way. John sometimes pushed sand back down the hole with the nozzle if the cone at top was very broad. Otherwise, the sand closed back in around the pole very quickly without any further action, and typically no back-filling with the nozzle. In fact, it was a race to get the location and perpendicularity of the pile set before it became impossible to adjust or move.

    • It’s not for the faint-hearted. You need a lot of equipment and some specialized gear, plus a crew of 5+ able bodied men. The poles are heavy and awkward to move. Carefully think through your process before you dive in. Also, there may be environmental permitting required, depending on your local/federal laws.

  2. Rick Bailey said:
  3. Ells said:

    It was a great reunion! And also… you have the BEST son-in-law. :)

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